With winter quickly approaching, ski season workers are trickling into the Park City area. All those workers need places to live, and they'll be turning to a variety of options. Caution is warranted, however, because scammers in the rental market commonly target out-of-towners and foreigners.
The downturn in the U.S. economy and the accompanying subprime mortgage crisis created fertile conditions for housing scams. Dwellings across the country were foreclosed upon by banks and remain empty.
Some of Park City's large employers of seasonal workers offer housing assistance to their employees. At Deer Valley Resort, for example, all first-time seasonal workers are eligible to live in housing units owned by Deer Valley in Park City and at River's Edge, between the Jordanelle Reservoir and Heber, according to communications manager Emily Summers. Summers said that Deer Valley also encourages employees to post housing opportunities and needs on its human resources bulletin boards and on its internal website.
For those workers who do not have the benefit of employer-guided housing assistance like Deer Valley's, the task of finding housing on one's own can be intimidating and risky. Renters need to be alert, diligent and thorough. Here are some tips for avoiding the scammers looking to prey on the unsuspecting:
Never wire money or pay a security deposit or initial rent payment in cash. Individuals need to present identification in order to cash or deposit a check, and that is not the case with wire transfers or cash payments, neither of which leaves much of a trace. If a prospective landlord or management company asks you to wire money, there's a great chance it's a scam.
Do your homework. The more time you spend looking at housing options, the better idea you'll have of what the going rental rates are. If a rental listing appears too good to be true, it probably is.
Be skeptical. If a rental listing is short on details, if the contact email address is anonymous or unintelligible, if a listing is poorly written or in broken English, or if you're not able to physically see the place before paying a security deposit, there's a good chance it's a scam.
When the person renting out a property is immediately anxious to have you move in, tread carefully. Legitimate landlords and management companies generally aren't itching to have just anyone move in to their dwellings - they want reliable, responsible tenants. If someone wants you to move in without knowing anything about you, be wary.
Don't give out personal information before filling out a rental application. Some scammers go after individuals' personal or financial information, such as Social Security numbers, bank accounts or credit card numbers, rather than a quick, direct payment.
Go with your gut. Scammers can be creative and you can't prepare for every trick out there. If something seems off or doesn't feel right, don't let yourself be pressured into turning over money or personal information. When renting a place, it's prudent to be cautious.
Don't rely entirely on email. Always speak to an actual person, even if it's only on the phone, before giving up any kind of information or money.
Look out for fellow apartment hunters by reporting suspicious housing listings.
Some scammers will be more effective than others, and it's not always easy to tell that something suspicious is afoot. If you stay alert and cautious, however, apartment hunting can be a lot safer.
Sources for this article include Federal Trade Commission guidance; MSN Real Estates's "Renters: Beware of new twists on an old scam"; and Hotpads blog's "10 Tips to Avoid Scam Rental Listings".